Douglas H. Chadwick
To catch wolverines for a radio-tracking study in Montana’s Glacier National Park, we picked out spots where paw prints converged in the winter backcountry and set about building stout box traps from spruce and fir logs. The walls were eight inches thick. That didn’t keep some of these animals from tearing their way out in a matter of hours. If one was still there when we lifted the lid a notch to peer in, the opening instantly filled with a blur of claws like crampons, teeth that can crunch a moose femur and deep, rattling growls – wolverine for, “Hope you don’t need your face, Tame Boy, because I’m going to take it off.”
Wolverines sometimes force grizzlies away from a kill, which, we can all agree, is a bad-ass thing to do when you weigh 25 to 35 pounds. Members of our research team often talked about the baddest of all, a wolverine’s wolverine: M3. During the course of the research, which began in 2002 and continues today, I’d followed signals from his radio through remote valleys in the park but never glimpsed him. Oh, he’s big, they told me, heavier than his dad, M1 (who lays claim to the center of Glacier and to three girlfriends there). Most wolverines are explosive inside a trap, but they said that M3 went completely nuclear, that trying to jab him with a syringe-tipped pole would demolish your nerves, that it took twice the expected drug dose to knock him down. They once found him ripping and chewing his way into a closed trap, not to reach the bait but to get at a rival, old M6, who had been caught earlier.
Like the other wolverines in the project, M3 made his home in Mistakis (or Backbone of the World), the Blackfeet Indian name for the cavalcade of peaks that makes up modern-day Glacier, adjoining Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta and the country bordering those two reserves. Enormous as the landscape seems, it is just one link in a long, lovely, untamed and still mostly unbroken chain of refuge and inspiration running from New Mexico to northern Canada – the Rocky Mountains, which divide North America’s waters and shape much of its climate east and west. More in keeping with the Blackfeet vision, many refer to the Rockies as the Spine of the Continent.